In March of 1972, my father had an unexpected and severe heart attack. I rushed home from San Diego, where I worked at the American Indian Career Center and I wept because I thought for sure my dad had passed on to the "Other Side Camp," as he always called the Spiritual Worlds beyond.
I arrived at my Dad’s bedside. Although he was unable to speak with all the medical apparatus connected to him, very thankful I could see in my father’s eyes that he was not going to the Other Side Camp yet! In fact, he "stayed around to see how everything turned out," as he always said he would, for another 32 years.
After my father was feeling up to travel, I wanted to give Thanksgiving to honor his recovery when he and my mother came to visit me in San Diego. I called my Lala, (Grandfather) Vine Deloria Sr. in South Dakota for counsel. He had been my Dakota Elder Advisor on these cultural and spiritual matters, for many years.
My father was a very close relative to Lala Vine Sr. since birth. Vine Sr. was my Grandmother's younger brother. I remembered my father often speaking about giving Thanksgiving for all that comes in our lives! He used to say, “If we can’t be happy and thankful today, then for what day are we waiting?
My Lala Vine Sr. echoed this same wisdom with me on the phone -- there were infinite ways to understand and give prayerful Thanksgiving and gratitude to the infinite, Creator of All. One of those ways Lala shared was, "Feeding the People!" He suggested a Wopida Ceremony. So without telling my parents, I flew my Lala Vine Sr. to San Diego to help me surprise my father and mother when they came to San Diego to visit me after my father’s recovery.
With the support of all the Sisters, their Children, and the Staff at the American Indian Career Center we had a great Wopida Ceremony for the recovery of my father. After eating, Lala Vine Sr. gave a great talk about the meaning of “Wopida.”
Wopida is a Dakota word, with profound, infinite, eternal meaning and transforming spiritual force. It is sometimes called a Giveaway Ceremony or a Potlatch. Wopida also reflects honoring our Sacred Relationship with all Life of Mother Earth. Lala Vine Sr. said, “All Life is a Gift of our Great Spirit, for which we should always give Thanksgiving!"
It was during this experience that I begin to realize that my life and actions needed to be a Wopida. Sometimes, I forget, especially during challenging times, but I am still working on making my life a Wopida, as I see the blessings that manifest from such a living Thanksgiving.
When we strive to make our lives, every thought, word and action, a living Wopida, we are blessed by a great spiritual gift. Whenever the inmost chambers of our heart and soul are filled with Thanksgiving and gratitude, our lives also naturally become filled with compassion, love, understanding, forgiveness, joy, happiness, and oneness.
With our lives centered on Thanksgiving, there is no room left for the experience of fear, hate, prejudice, revenge, jealousy, loneliness, and disunity. Nothing remains that separate us and our Oneness with our Beloved Creator, our Human Family and all Life, seen and unseen.
This spiritual understanding of Wopida requires each of us to live with honor, compassion, love, respect, and harmony with all life, including ourselves! This spiritual wisdom and understanding recognize that the Hurt of One is the Hurt of All and the Honor of One is the Honor of All!
We are all Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth, the Beloved Children of one Father and one Mother. Each one of us a Sovereignty -- Ancient, Imperishable, and Everlasting. For all of these blessings and many more, may we be infinitely and eternally thankful!
Wopida Tanka to All,
Brother Phil Lane Jr. and Family, Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations